In Memoriam: Marianna Matteson, beloved former chair, professor and longtime supporter

Marianna Merritt and Don S. Matteson
Marianna and Don Matteson

Marianna Merritt Matteson, former professor and chair of foreign languages and a long-time supporter of students and faculty in SLCR and other WSU areas, passed away peacefully in Pullman on July 20 at 90 years old. A celebration of her life is being planned.

Marianna earned a master’s degree in Spanish in 1956 from then-Washington State College (now WSU) and taught in public schools in West Virginia and at the University of Idaho. In 1965, she joined the faculty at WSU, where she rose to full professor and served as chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures for 10 years. She completed her PhD in Spanish at the University of Washington–Seattle in 1968 and published a book and several scholarly articles. Her foreign study experiences took her to Mexico numerous times, and to Colombia, SA, as a Fulbright Scholar.

She also traveled extensively throughout the world during her 51-year marriage to Don Matteson, WSU professor emeritus of chemistry, and the couple delighted in experiencing different cultures and geographies on all seven continents. Their home, filled with music, art, books, and collectibles from around the globe, and their robust support of WSU and its educational mission reflect their many interests and spirit of generosity.

Marianna will be greatly missed by all whose lives she touched. Vilma Navarro-Daniels, the current Marianna Merritt and Donald S. Matteson Distinguished Professor in Foreign Languages and Cultures, shared this fond remembrance:

While I was in Sicily last month, I received the sad news of Mariana Merritt Matteson’s passing. Being in such a beautiful place, surrounded by the calm and transparent waters of the Mediterranean Sea, moved me to reflection and invited me to feel Mariana’s departure.

I met Marianna when I had just arrived at WSU, in August 2003. She and Donald, her husband, used to attend the party that Dr. Eloy González organized at his house each summer at the beginning of the academic year. I learned that Marianna had served as head of our academic unit at the time—the Department of Foreign Languages ​​and Cultures—also that she had been a Professor of Spanish and was already retired. Back then, Marianna and Donald were thinking of creating a scholarship to support Foreign Language faculty whose position included research work. I never imagined that 15 years later I would be honored by receiving the Marianna Merritt Matteson and Donald Matteson Distinguished Professorship in Foreign Languages for 2018–2021. In June 2021, I was recognized with this honor for a second term.

Making a list of all the academic achievements that I have been able to attain thanks to the generosity and support given by the award created by Marianna and her husband would be a never-ending task. However, I would like to mention some milestones in my career, such as the publication of the book En la elocuencia del silencio. A Critical Edition of Marta Ortiz Lorca’s Poetry (published by Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso Press and awarded one of the grants, Fondo del Libro, a nationwide contest sponsored by the Ministry of Cultures, Arts, and Heritage, Government of Chile); an edited volume of Contextos. Estudios de Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales (a peer-reviewed journal published by the College of History, Geography, and Letters, Metropolitan University of Educational Sciences Press, Santiago, Chile); eight refereed journal articles/book chapters; nine presentations of research papers at international conferences; invitations to deliver two keynote addresses at international conferences; and several research-field trips.

All these accomplishments led to my promotion to the rank of professor in February 2020. I am categorically certain that the Distinguished Professorship that Marianna and her husband established was crucial to achieve this unparalleled and gratifying professional fulfillment. I am—and I will always be—grateful for the support provided. The Matteson Distinguished Professorship has furthered my research activities, which has nourished my teaching and made my students’ learning experience at WSU long-term and substantial.

Fly high, Marianna! You live in our hearts now.

Gifts to support the Marianna Merritt and Donald S. Matteson Distinguished Professorship in Foreign Languages and Cultures Fund can be made securely online.